2011 Florida Legislative Action Alert

Jackie — March 22, 2011 @ 2:11 PM — Comments (0)

Every year, the Florida legislature considers hundreds of bills, few of which affect the work of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF). This year, legislators have filed three bills that you might want to keep your eye on.

Eyewitness Identification Reform
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. To date, of the 267 people who have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, 80% of those individuals’ convictions were caused, at least in part, by a mistaken identification. This issue is also at the forefront of the work of the Florida Innocence Commission.

Senator Joe Negron (R–Palm City) has filed SB 1206 and Representative Perry Thurston (D–Ft. Lauderdale) has filed HB 821. These bills provide a comprehensive, uniform, statewide reform package for removing the suggestiveness from witness identification procedures. Specifically, the bills provide that

  1. Live lineups and photo lineups be composed in a manner that diminishes their suggestiveness,
  2. These procedures be administered in a “double-blind” fashion, which means that neither the witness nor the administrator knows whether the suspect is in the lineup,
  3. The lineup participants must be shown to the witness sequentially rather than simultaneously,
  4. Proven instructions must be given before the lineup is administered and no confirmatory comments should be made during or after the lineup procedure, and
  5. Agencies without manpower to comply with certain aspects of the legislation may use prescribed cost-effective measures to still blind the administrator of the lineup.

On Monday, March 21, the Florida Innocence Commission voted to support Negron’s proposal.  If passed, this legislation would bring Florida in line with states like North Carolina and Ohio, who have passed similar laws. Most importantly, this legislation would move us closer to having uniform justice in criminal investigations, regardless of geography.  Please call Senator Negron at (850) 487-5088 and Rep. Thurston at (850) 488-1084 to thank them for their leadership on this issue.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1206 and HB 821, the Witness Identification Reform Act, on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.  Make sure to tell them that this bill will help solve crimes and prevent wrongful convictions. In order to have a chance to pass this thing this session, we need to get these bills calendared as soon as possible.

After the bill gets calendared, we will send you a new action alert on how to help persuade the members of the committee to pass the bill.

Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Capital Sentencing
Florida is the only state in the nation which requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone of capital murder and make them eligible for the death penalty, but then requires only a majority jury vote to sentence them to death. Identical bills filed by Senator Thad Altman (R–Melbourne) and Representative John Patrick Julien (D–North Miami Beach) would change that, if passed.

SB 1066 and HB 979 would require a jury to come to a unanimous verdict during capital sentencing proceedings in order for the judge to be able to sentence the defendant to death. This bill will save Florida from exorbitant spending on years of capital appeal and post-conviction proceedings. Currently, the closer a jury sentencing vote is to a 7-5 majority vote for death, the more likely the Florida Supreme Court is to overturn the death sentence and start the process all over again.

Most importantly, a higher standard for imposing a death sentence will help prevent those innocent individuals wrongfully convicted of capital murder from being wrongfully incarcerated on death row and possibly executed.

Please call Senator Altman at (850) 487-5053 and Representative Julien at (850) 488-7088 to thank them for sponsoring such an important bill.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1066 and HB 979 on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.

Wrongful Conviction Compensation
In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, which set up a streamlined process to pay exonerees $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration as well as provide them access to tuition-free education. While the Act was a step in the right direction, it came with a number of provisions which have had the effect of excluding most of Florida’s exonerees from compensation.

Specifically, the Act included a “Clean Hands” provision, which excludes from compensation those individuals who were convicted of a felony prior to or during their wrongful incarceration. This provision denies compensation to Bill Dillon, who was convicted of felony possession of one Quaalude pill two years before being wrongfully convicted for murder and spending 27 years wrongfully incarcerated. It also excludes Orlando Boquete who had the audacity to escape from his wrongful incarceration, which is a felony.

For the past two legislative sessions, bills have been sponsored to amend this Act. Senator Arthenia Joyner (D–Tampa) has sponsored a similar bill (SB 250) this year. Unfortunately, SB 250 does not address the clean hands provision, nor does it help more innocent people get compensated.  Also, it does not have a companion bill in the House.

Please call Senator Joyner at (850) 487-5059, thank her for caring about this issue, but urge her to amend the bill to remove the clean hands provision which further victimizes Florida’s exonerees.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee as its first stop.  You can call Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) at 850-487-5130 and ask her to put the bill on her committee agenda at the next meeting.

Call to Action
Change in our criminal justice system cannot happen unless we stand together and demand it. Call your local legislators to let them know that these issues are important to you and urge their support for these reforms.

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